Stocking Options for Ponds Smaller than 1 Acre
The bass-bream stocking combination tends to be less successful in ponds smaller than 1 acre because bass are easy to overharvest and the bream become too abundant to grow to a harvestable size. But other options are available. These are catfish-only and hybrid-bream combinations.
Channel catfish grow well with few disease problems when stocked at 100 to 150 per acre. Fish grow faster with supplemental feeding. Natural foods include decaying organic matter, plant material, crawfish, small fish, and insects.
The relatively low stocking rate (100 to 150 per acre) ensures good growth to a harvestable size in a reasonably short time. You do not want to encourage catfish spawning because of potential crowding and disease problems. To control the possibility of unwanted spawning, stock 25 largemouth bass per acre to the ponds to eliminate any fingerlings smaller than 6 inches. You can restock catfish after you remove more than half of the fish from the original stocking. Remember to stock larger (8- to 10-inch) catfish to avoid feeding catfish to your bass in established ponds.
One of the most common mistakes pond owners make is stocking too many catfish. Recreational catfish ponds are intended to be much less intensively managed than their commercial counterparts. In general, most farm ponds can support no more than 500 pounds of fish per acre without supplemental aeration. When you stock and grow catfish to catchable sizes (1 to 3 pounds), you exceed the limit when more than about 150 catfish are present.
Attempts to exceed this natural limit in farm ponds without supplemental aeration and feeding usually cause stress and disease in the catfish, and oxygen can be depleted to low levels where total fish kills may occur.
Hybrid Sunfish Ponds
Hybrid sunfish are a good option for small ponds because they grow quickly, especially when fed, and they are easy to catch. The most commonly used hybrid sunfish results from crossing male bluegill with female green sunfish. These hybrids are 85 to 95 percent males, readily accept artificial feed, and grow faster than bluegill or redear sunfish under similar conditions.
Successful hybrid sunfish ponds require that you carefully follow the stocking rates and harvest recommendations.
You can get best growth by stocking 750 hybrids and 50 bass per acre and then feeding a commercially prepared feed of at least 28 percent protein. Commercial catfish pellets are the most economical feed. Never give the fish more food than they will eat in 5 to 10 minutes, and adjust the amount as fish grow. If fish do not eat all the feed offered in that time, you probably are overfeeding and wasting feed and money.
A demand-type or automatic fish feeder is a good investment. One problem with hand-feeding is that someone has to be there to do it! Most people tire of the novelty of feeding fish within the first season, and then the fish may become neglected. Installing a feeder ensures that the fish receive feed on a regular basis, regardless of your schedule and availability.
Never stock hybrid sunfish into ponds managed for other objectives, and never stock them in combination with other bream species. Hybrid bream will not produce enough offspring to yield good bass growth rates, and they will crossbreed with other sunfish species and create undesirable offspring. Hybrid sunfish should only be stocked in small ponds following the exact recommendations presented.
Always stock hybrids in combination with a predator fish because, contrary to popular belief, they are not sterile. Most hybrid populations are 85 to 95 percent males and thus have lower reproductive potential. They do reproduce, and they will overpopulate unless largemouth bass have been stocked with them. Hybrid sunfish offspring do not share the same qualities as their parents and are not desirable.
When stocked with bass, most hybrid offspring do not survive because the bass quickly eat them. This prevents overpopulation and provides conditions for best growth of the originally stocked hybrids.
Hybrid sunfish are best suited to ponds of 3 acres or smaller. It is important to remember that hybrid sunfish management is for production of big bream, and bass growth will be less than desirable.
Bass are stocked primarily as a management tool to eat the hybrid offspring. Return all bass that are caught to the pond to maintain high predator numbers. Also, this is a “put and take” fishery, meaning that hybrids are grown, caught, and replaced by other hybrids stocked in future years. Periodic restocking is necessary to sustain a fishery for more than a few years.
Record the number of hybrids removed and plan to restock when 50 to 70 percent of the originally stocked fish have been caught and removed. At restocking time, stock larger hybrid sunfish fingerlings (3 to 4 inches), since they are less likely to be eaten by the bass than smaller fish. Restock at the same rates as the initial stocking.
You may want to check with local suppliers before starting a hybrid bream pond to make sure larger fingerlings are available. If they are not, you will need to drain or poison the pond and start over when fishing quality declines.